Higher Level Thinking and Your Coffee Table

Big, expensive books with pretty pictures are nice, but they don't engage your brain all that much. Consider some of these alternatives for your coffee table

Tangram Puzzles: 500 Tricky Shapes to Confound & Astound/ Includes Deluxe Wood TangramsTangram Puzzles: 500 Tricky Shapes to Confound & Astound Puzzles are always a good thing and tangrams are great for improving those spatial skills. The shapes are challenging, but not impossible to solve and since there are only 7 pieces, you aren't likely to lose any.

Soma CubeAnother great puzzle is the Soma Cube. This 3-D puzzle can be made into a variety of different shapes. These puzzles are usually harder than the Tangram, but if you persist, you will get better at solving them. If you want a fun project to do with your child, here are instructions for making one. 

Wreck This JournalIf you want your family and guests to get playful and creative, consider Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith. In this fun little book, you are encouraged to do all kinds of fun and rebellious things such as poking holes in pages, drawing all over the cover, spilling things on pages, cutting, tearing, and more. We keep a copy on our coffee table and encourage guests to contribute. I've written more about Wreck this Journal here

Chat Pack: Fun Questions to Spark ConversationsWant to get a discussion started? Try the Chat Pack: Fun Questions to Spark Conversations. Guests and family members of all ages enjoy picking a card and answering the question. If you have smaller kids, you might consider getting the Chat Pack For Kids.

The Kids' Book of Questions: Revised for the New CenturySimilarly, if you prefer a book format, consider The Kids' Book of Questions: Revised for the New Century. I have used the older version of this book for years with my students and my own children. Really interesting question to ponder.

SET GameIf you are looking for a game, consider SET Game. Everyone plays at once during SET. Players must find sets of three cards using the attributes on each card. The game is quite challenging, yet kids as young as six can learn it.
And finally, if you want to put food on your coffee table, I suggest mixed nuts that are still in the shell. This is a great snack because it is healthy, discourages mindless eating since you have to work to get the nut out of the shell, and engages the brain a bit since each nut is in a way, its own small puzzle.  Just remember the nutcracker and an extra bowl for shells.

Making Text Books Work

Personally, I am not a fan. If I had my way, most of the text books bought by school districts would be used as door stops or maybe to hold up shelves. It amazes me how an incredibly interesting topic like pioneers or dinosaurs can be made utterly dull when presented in a text book. If I were the Queen of Education, students would participate in integrated units that are full of writing, drama, music, movement, brainstorming, open-ended questions, and that end in a giant project rather than a test.

But I am not the Queen of Education and text books are a part of most classrooms.

Research has shown that very little makes its way into long term memory simply by reading something or hearing it read. So, if you are working with a text book, consider adding some of these ideas:
  • Make a scavenger hunt type of worksheet so that students are looking for specific information that they fill out as they read. It is much more motivational to set it up as a scavenger hunt rather than a list of questions.
  • When reading aloud, stop often to ask questions about the text. Some simple comprehension questions, some open-ended opinion questions. Consider having students pair up to answer the questions to each other.
  • Read somewhere other than sitting on chairs. Sit on desks, sit on the floor, go outside on a sunny day.
  • Have students take notes as they read.
  • Get more pictures. A text book can only offer one or two for any given section. Use the Internet to find more pictures to share and discuss. Pictures bring the subject alive.
  • Ask an open-ended question and have students write about it.
  • If it makes sense, act something out or do a short role-play.
  • If it makes sense, draw pictures having to do with the text.
  • Wait 10 or 15 minutes (maybe after recess) and review. I am a big fan of the foam ball for quick review. A student who gets and answer correct gets to try to throw it into a basket. Keep a year long class tally in a corner on the board. It just takes a few extra seconds and is amazingly motivating, especially when the class tally gets close to 100 and other round numbers.
  • As much as possible try to make connections to the students' lives.
  • Take big numbers and put them into terms students can understand - that is as tall as a 40 story building. That is as long as 20 football fields.
  • Use the information in other subjects. If you are studying dinosaurs, make up dinosaur word problems or have students write a story about raising a baby dinosaur.
  • Have students read silently for important information. Then have a discussion about what they thought was important and why.
What strategies have you used to teach from text books?

Teaching Resources

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